Do Bumblebees Live in Hives? Common Nesting Habits for Bumblebees

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Bumblebees aren’t solitary insects. But how do they live? Do bumblebees live in hives? If they do, how do you avoid running into them? Here’s what you need to know.

Do Bumblebees Live in Hives? Common Nesting Habits for Bumblebees

Bumblebees have nesting habits that are similar to honey bees.

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How Bumblebees Nest

Bumblebees are somewhat like honeybees. They live in groups, and they also have a strong social system that’s followed by every bee in their nest.

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Bumblebee homes are often called ‘nests’ rather than ‘hives’. Even though it’s not official, many prefer this term because of the sheer difference of the number of inhabitants in each living site. Hives usually have several thousands of bugs inside it while nest residents can number from one up to just a few hundred. For the bumblebee’s case, about 50 to 400 of them can occupy a nest. That’s a pretty small figure compared to the honey bee’s 10,000 to 60,000.

Here’s a quick look at a bumblebee nest.

It’s the queen that picks out the nesting site. When spring arrives, she wakes up from hibernation and chooses the best location to build a new nest. Most of the time, the ideal nesting site is somewhere connected to the ground, either below it or right above it, covered in grass and foliage.

Once she finds the perfect spot, the queen then builds a few chambers for her first brood. Like that of the honey bees’, the chambers are made out of yellowish wax, secreted by the special glands in her abdomen. However, they’re not hexagonal but round and pod-like. They’re also drier, crustier and thinner.

When the nest is ready, the queen lays her eggs and eventually raises the first batch of workers. From there, the nest will grow, getting more workers to build more wax chambers and to collect more pollen and nectar for the colony.

Spotting a Bumblebee Nest

Despite being a common bee, bumblebee nests are actually difficult to find. Some are so well hidden that when you do spot one, it would be through an accident with painful consequences.

So how do you know if a lump on the ground is a bumblebee nest? Well, even though these bees are inherently not aggressive, they’re bound to sting you if you go near their home. To help you avoid that, here’s a list of the things you should watch out for and the things that you should do when you encounter a nest.

  • Avoid mounds. Even if there’s no nest inside, you really can’t take the risk.
  • Avoid clumps of grass. As we’ve mentioned previously, bumblebees will nest above ground if there’s a thick cluster of grass.
  • Stay away from what looks like a tiny bird’s nest. From a distance, a bumblebee’s nest can sometimes resemble a bird’s.
  • Read about common bumblebee nesting sites. We have one for you right here. 
  • Don’t breathe on the nest. According to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, bees are sensitive. Breathing near them can potentially turn them hostile.
  • Move away as fast as you can. Bumblebees won’t chase you too far. So if you’ve happen to step on a nest, run away quickly. Cover your head with your arms or with an extra layer of clothing. Don’t waste your time swatting with your arms. That will only slow you down.
  • Bumblebee nests die out in a few months. They’re like hornets. They don’t stick around too long. Only the queens are capable of surviving the winter.

So what’s the takeaway?

If you think about it, in a very rudimentary way, the answer to the common question Do bumblebees live in hives? is yes. Fundamentally, a nest is sort of like a hive. And bumblebees do sound like they’re honey bees because they live in a colony with a clear social structure. The only difference is the number of inhabitants in their home.

But one thing is for sure though. Whether it’s a honey bee hive or a bumblebee nest, staying away from them is always a good and safe idea.